How to rationalize almost any antiques purchase

I spotted the circa 1900 oak kitchen cupboard at an auction. I didn’t need it. I didn’t have a place to put it. I didn’t have the money to spend on it. By all rights I should have just kept on walking – perhaps with my eyes closed. I couldn’t resist the four little drawers with porcelain knobs, though. Where most such cabinets have one or two drawers, this one had four. I had seen a very similar cabinet sell at auction some months before for $1,000. I thought it a ridiculous price. It was worth as much as $650 perhaps, but no more. There weren’t many antiques at this auction, however, and the cabinet was the only good piece of furniture. What if it went cheap? I had to check it out.

The bidding started at only $100, but with auctions it’s not where the bidding starts, but where it ends that’s important. Still, I couldn’t help myself. I began bidding. A few seconds later I’d purchased the old cupboard I didn’t need, didn’t have room for, and couldn’t afford. I had to purchase it! It sold for only $275!

There were at least three good reasons why I shouldn’t have purchased the cupboard. I did have several good reasons to rationalize my purchase, however.

1) It was a steal at $275. I almost had to buy it!

2) A cupboard is a very useful piece of furniture.

3) I could always resell it for a profit.

4) I knew I would really enjoy the piece (if I could find a place for it).

5) It was a good investment.

I could probably have gone on from there, but as you can see, I had no problem rationalizing my purchase. I found a place for the cupboard by moving out another piece. Today, it stands in my log cabin, filled with blue willow china and sponge ware pitchers. If I hadn’t purchased the cupboard, I know I would now be very, very sorry.

One thing I learned long ago about collecting is that if I passed up something I wanted, I regretted it later. The more unusual something is and the more one likes it, the wiser it is to go ahead and purchase it. If you are like me, your money will have a way of slipping from your grasp one way or another. When I fall in love with a spinning wheel, postcard, or piece of pottery, I generally purchase it. If I don’t the money just disappears anyway. When I purchase a piece I can’t really afford, I just do without other things. I find it’s worth it.

If making such purchases leaves you with a pang of guilt there are ways to rationalize to yourself why you had to buy it; not wanted to, or needed to, but had to (as in absolute necessity). This also works well with spouses, friends, and neighbors who just don’t understand. These non-collectors often think we collectors are out of our minds for paying $1,500 for an 1850s corner cabinet or $300 for a 1950s chrome kitchen table and chair set. Of course, we collectors know that such purchases are completely logical. For those who don’t understand, rationalization can make apparent the wisdom – or dare I say – the absolute necessity of making such purchases.

Purchasing antiques and collectibles can be rationalized with any number of pertinent facts. The following is a list of some of them in no particular order. The following rationalizations are just the tip of the iceberg. Undoubtedly, there are dozens more. Whenever any member of the uneducated public asks “Why did you buy that old thing?” feel free to use whichever rationalization(s) best fits the situation.

Antiques are of higher quality than modern items. We’ve all heard the phrase, “They don’t make them like they used to.” Well, antiques are the very items being referred to in this oft used phrase. A single example will suffice. Several years ago I purchased a new sofa. Four years later, that beautiful sofa, which cost me about $500, was a pile of rubble. At about the same time, I purchased a circa 1880 Eastlake style sofa for slightly less than the new model. My 19th century sofa is now in the hands of another collector, but looks exactly the same as the day I bought it. Which sofa was of greater quality? Do the math, four years as opposed to 100+. If we calculate the time in use, the antique sofa has been used 25 times as long as the modern sofa. If you choose to look at it this way, you could say that the antique sofa is worth 25 times as much as the modern sofa ($12,500). And I paid less that $500 for it! See how well rationalization works?

Antiques are of higher quality. My desk, dresser, tables, and many other items of furniture are all antiques. I don’t foresee the need to replace any of them in my lifetime. Can an owner of modern furniture say that? The advantage doesn’t stop here. While modern furniture is often made of fiberboard, glue, and who knows what, my antiques are constructed of walnut, cherry, and oak. The difference is clear.

Antiques are often as inexpensive as modern items. Perhaps $800 seems a high price of a turn of the century oak table, but take a look, many modern tables cost just as much. The same holds true for many other antiques and collectibles.

One of the best rationalizations is “It’s an investment.” This one should satisfy even the most ardent non-collectors. Few of them will fail to recognize the concept of profit. Occasionally I do sell one of my antiques for less than I paid for it, but this is the exception and not the rule. Generally, I get all my money back and then some, often the “then some” is considerably more than the original purchase price. Even if I sell for less than I paid, I still had the privilege of using and enjoying the piece for years. Let’s say I purchased a marble-topped Victorian dresser for $600, used it for five years, and then sold it for $500. My final cost for using the dresser is $20 a year, not bad. And, of course, most of the time the selling price is far above the purchase price.

Years ago I purchased a beautiful Victorian center table with an oval marble top for $350. I used it for five years and sold it for $800 (which was still a very good price). It was like getting paid $90 a year to use the table. Not bad, huh?

As you can see, there are all sorts of reasons to purchase antiques. So, the next time you see something you really want, buy it, it’s not only okay, it’s just plain smart!

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